Horses have a way of keeping you humble, and always keeping you on your toes. As I mentioned before, we didn't have the clinic prep I'd hoped for, but alas Saturday morning we loaded Cadence up and, after a few hours of driving including my first freeway horse trailering experience, (btw, being sandwitched by two transport trucks as you head down the freeway on a wet road is terrifying) we arrived at the most gorgeous facility I have ever laid eyes on. They have heat lamps above the grooming stalls....
Myself and the other riders settled our mares (4 mares, 0 geldings) into the adorable little quarantine barn, with stalls already filled with fresh water, hay, and shavings. Then, we humans headed off to the (fully heated) viewing room to enjoy lunch! Now when I say viewing room, really its a beautiful kitchen + dining area + living room that just so happens to look out onto the arena; viewing room just doesn't do it justice. The farm owner/olympic rider/friend of my coach's, whom we shall refer to as B, arrived and displayed her incredibly gracious disposition by ensuring we were comfortable, had plenty of tea and coffee, and that our horses had all settled in nicely. Honestly, I think she's the nicest lady I know! Anywho, after stuffing ourselves full of food, we settled in to start watching some lessons.
My coach had also come up with one of the horses she trains, a RCMP bred gelding who's training at PSG and possibly aiming for the Pan Am's in 2015. She and B worked on getting more expression through his changes, and sharpening up his canter pirouettes, as well as some test work. It was fantastic to watch, even if 98% of it isn't directly applicable to us. The next rider focused on getting her event mare who liked to pull and fall through her rider's aids a little more up in front and responsive. They also worked on fixing some rider position issues, which was educational to watch. As the 3rd lesson started, I headed over to start prepping myself and The Mare.
I'd decided to braid Cadence, since her mane was mid-pull and looked awful. And while the braids were far from stellar (just simple elastic band button braids) they took less than 25 minutes. I brought her from the quarantine barn into the fancy schmancy main barn, and left her under the heat lamp with the heat pack on her back to get her muscles nice and warm. A little while later, it was our turn. We headed in as the other lesson was finishing, and I quickly hopped on without taking her for a walk first, as I didn't want to interfere with the other woman's riding. Perhaps this was part of the issue, but when I got on Cadence was immediately focused on only one thing: GO. She was tense, but not nervous perse... just energetic. She kept trying to barge her way into the trot, and was rather resistant to my attempts to stretch her and loosen her up. After attempting (and quickly giving up on) a trot stretch, our lesson began.
It quickly became apparent that Cadence wasn't going to settle. After trying to work out some of her energy by letting her settle into the canter, B decided that our best bet would be to hop off and quickly lunge Cadence, a plan I wholeheartedly agreed with. Cadence proceeded to spend about 20 minutes jumping around on the lunge line, and when she finally appeared to settle I hopped back on.
Though she was improved, she was still not her usual self. She was inconsistent in the contact, constantly barging or laying on me, and generally uninterested in doing anything other than running. B had me really focus on NOT holding her when she threw her head and tried to barge through me, and ensuring that whenever she did pull I didn't give her anything to pull off of. We mostly focused on trying to soften her and get her to flex both directions (and through transitions) without flipping out. To deal with Cadence's horrendous behaviour following our canter-trot transitions, she had us move immediately into a leg-yield, with her nose to the wall. This tactic worked surprisingly well. Cadence's initial post-canter spaz was quelled by the fact that she needed to focus on moving her feet laterally, or else smack her face against the wall. This allowed me to regain her more rapidly, as we didn't have to work through a fight after every transition. However, at the end of the ride (another 30 minutes post-lunge) Cadence still wouldn't walk. She'd walk for a few steps, then atempt to barge off into the trot; so at this point, B suggested we put Cadence back into her stall (or cross ties, or whatever) and let her settle for 20 minutes or so before bringing her back into the arena and attempting to get some sane w/t work out of her.
After untacking, briefly heat-lamping, and then hand walking for a few minutes I left Cadence in her stall. However, she was too busy being a b*tch to the mare next to her to really settle, so after trying to wait her out I gave in and brought her back into the main barn and left her in the cross ties. Well, actually I made her ground tie, but that's semantics.
Thankfully when I got back on, Cadence was far more settled. She was still a lot ruder and harder to bend than she normally is, but she was far better than she was before. So after some walk and trot stretch, we untacked her and put her away.
From the clinic I learned the following:
-When the horse throws her head and tries to grab the reins away, RESIST the natural reaction to hold onto your reins. If you can, apply an on-off pressure, jiggle/pop the bit, or shake them off of it. However, if not, let it go.
-Add a little lunge work with side reins in when Cadence is in the mood grab the bit and blow through my rein-aids during transitions. Since she physically can't blow through the side reins, this avoids 'fights' under saddle. (please note, I'm not condoning "holding a horse's head" in a curled up position, or anything of that sort. That isn't the point of the exercise- the point is merely to let the horse bump into a rein-aid that they physically can't push through)
-Leg-hand ratio: twice as much on your legs as you have in your hands. This is aconcept I was already quite familiar with. However, B reminded me of the importance of the concept when dealing with misbehaving ponies that like to precede silliness with a little grabbing of the bit.
-Lateral flexion is everything. Ensure that the horse is truly and completely soft at all times, including/especially in stretch work. This seems fairly basic, and is something that I thought I fully comprehended. And yet when horses get strong most riders still tense up and 'hold' thus eliminating true suppleness. A horse can't be soft when any bracing is present. This one really 'tied it all together' for be. When Cadence is grabbing the bit and throwing her head, I wand to brace and "hold her in". In reality, we should be softening, adding leg, and suppling. Hard to fight those knee-jerk reactions though!
-My lower leg needs to come back. This is partially a saddle-related issue, but its a rider-related issue too! And as I can't afford a new dressage saddle ATM, its time to start the lower-leg struggle.
-Upper body back. The curse for all ex-hunter riders, and many lower level eventers: the dreaded forward tilt. I'm not dreadful about it, but tend to revert when focus shifts 100% onto the horse. That indicates that the issue is probably still present in my normal flat work, just not to the same degree.
Wow, that's a lot of writing. If anyone reads all the way through that I'll be stunned. Especially since the quality of writing is probably atrocious as it was dashed off in 3 separate 5-minute bouts. Anywho, videos and pictures will come shortly.
Cadence enjoying the gorgeousness that is their grooming stalls